Sunday, June 26, 2011

Thanks Kenny

“You’ve painted up your lips and curled your tinted hair. Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?”

My brain sometimes really gets me. Why oh, why do songs like this early Kenny Rogers lament get stuck in my head and continually circulate, and permeate, my thoughts, over and over and over again? The other day is was Karen Carpenter singing “We’ve only just begun, to live, White lace and promises, a kiss for luck and we’re on our way”. And why exactly is it that the very songs that seem to imbed themselves are the ones that were not my favorite when they came out some decades ago, but now seem to running on a timeless loop with little hope of escaping them. Another one is the song by Gordan Lightfoot about the sinking of the ship wrecked, Edmond Fitzgerald, done in the fine rhythms of a good rolling beer toasting chantey. Oh, and then there are any of the really great songs from the movie Cabaret that we watched recently, with Liza Minnelli belting them out, that get stuck floating round and round in my head. Diversion, please deliver me from these uncontrollable thoughts.

Life on the farm continues hot and slow but this week was graced by several days of afternoon thunderstorms with much needed rain cooling and soothing the plants and animals, my attitude included. This was also the week of my maiden voyage on my young mare, Cistine, a soon to be 4yr old filly who I have been ground driving, lunging, and trying to get her ready for a safe first un-tethered ride. I had been on her with my instructor holding the lunge line a while back, twice very briefly, so I did know that my being on her back wasn’t an issue but the entire rest of the puzzle was not so clear, like what it means to go left or right, and the biggy, whoa. Tuesday was the day I just got on and hoped.

I was over at my neighbor’s farm where there is a Hitchcock ring, an oval shaped pen perhaps fifty or sixty feet at the longest end. It is not as small as a round pen, which can limit a runaway and which I would have preferred, but neither gives any protection from being bucked off. It did have some feeling of enclosure and the sand footing was nice and soft enough for any possible unplanned dismount, and after a bit of lunging to gage her brain function, I put on my helmet and aboard I climbed, all the way up to her 17 hand plus high top of her back.

She stood there, ears pointed to me back there in the saddle, and then walked on when I gave her the words to do such. We did several rounds of the arena, several changes in direction with an easy opening rein action so as not to hurt her sensitive mouth, and we practiced “whoa” many times. She was quiet, relaxed, and interested in the new game we were playing and after a while I got off and gave her a big pat on the neck. She would have preferred a carrot but I was empty handed until we got back to our barn.

To climb onto the back of a young, previously never be ridden, horse is total leap of faith. It is quite a helpless thing to sit there assessing the shape of the animal, to feel its back for the first time, see its reaction to your being there, and have both parties wonder what comes next. The older I get and the more young ones I start, the longer I take with homework to get me to this moment in time. This is a critical step and one that will shape much of the horse’s future behavior from how well, or how disastrous, this first ride goes. There are no controls, no brake system, no seat belt and no air bag and a horse is a very big, athletic animal prone to all sorts of panic attacks which can lead one very quickly to being transported to the hospital should the do-do hit the fan. It is a long road to having a horse get to the spot where they know what you want and are about, and for them to be able and willing to comply. It all has a foundation on this first couple of mounted experiences so one really wants the thing to go extremely well, for many reasons including self preservation.

Cistine did do very well with it all and again several more times this week we repeated the lesson and each has nicely uneventful, ie, I did not come off involuntarily. I had taught her a bit of leg yielding from the ground and she quickly picked up on that from the saddle and was sensitive to the position of my body and would turn with the direction I faced to stay moving in front of me, so it was clear that what I had taught from the ground was paying dividends and carrying over. Long road, but we have had a good week and a good start now.

The hottest part of the day tends to be dealt with by staying indoors and finding diversions there. Yesterday we tended to our young wines, which we started a few months ago. We buy the grape juice concentrates that are from grapes from all over the world, in large cans, and then we add the other stuff, and yeast, to make it turn to five or six gallons of wine. The carboys, the glass fermenting containers, sit on the kitchen counter tops now, roughly eighteen gallons of chardonnay and merlot, wearing t-shirts to protect the light sensitive wines from the sun, waiting to clear before we bottle it soon. Early sampling is part of the job, and yesterday’s drudgery was quite promising and quite tasty.

We also started a new batch of beer, this time we went for a more summer brew, a European styled lager. First we sanitized all of the equipment and then poured the malt extract and water into the kettle and brought the mix to a boil. After a good while it finally got hot enough to begin to boil up rolling bubbles which quickly produced a foamy top. One has to watch carefully at this point that it doesn’t foam over the edge, so monitoring the heat is critical. At some point during this boiling the potential brew, the wort, begins to look a bit like egg drop soup with soft chunks floating around and the foam begins to drop back to the bottom of the kettle. This is called the hot break and it is where the proteins begin to change and drop out of the mix. After the hot break occurred, we then took our big kettle out to the swimming pool to set it in the water to cool it quickly. Slow cooled wort makes for hazy and unstable beer, and we don’t want that come bottling, and then, drinking it time. The wort now sits and bubbles contentedly turning its sugars into beer for the future..ahhh

All our hard labor done, we retired for the afternoon to the pool with our health conscious papaya/pina coladas in hand, and slipped into the water. Sitting on the steps of the pool sipping our concoctions we noticed that the sinking sun was casting low beams of light through the trees at our back and the beams were landing on the trees in front of us, lighting them upside down, making for a very Maxfield Parrish painting style scene, warm and very lovely, each leaf defined.

Another beam found its way bouncing off the water of the pool and was reflected upward into a clump of Spanish Moss. The dancing light bounced and moved through the moss in the patterns of the waves in the pool, and somehow it made me think of fairies, Tinkerbell, and such. It was a visual treat to watch, mesmerizing, and magic, and then the sun set, and it was gone, yet another example of the fragile beauty of the ephemeral.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Full Circles

For some unknown, on the conscious level at least, I awoke yesterday morning in total funk. The already toasty sun had risen and was sucking the moisture from the newly wet ground from the recent thunderstorms, and was holding in its grasp making the air thick and heavy. This phenomenon of weather makes me go into a frustrated mode because of the toll it takes on my energy. On Monday I had ridden three horses at mid morning, came in with a massive headache and was nauseous. There are so many things of life on a farm that require outdoor participation and weather plays the major role of how easily or how dreadfully awful it can be to do anything productive. It just pisses me off to feel trapped, and to counter that I must emerge into a creative and productive mode at something. Finding that outlet is the challenge, many available, but which to choose is the rub.

the garden earlier in spring
 Horses fed, yesterday morning, I wandered back into the house, my shirt damp from the efforts spent, and pondered the next move. Breakfast seemed a good diversion, and so did the previously unopened bottle of Champagne my daughter had given me for Mothers day some time back. It being Fathers day, it just seemed fitting to use it as sort of a Parent in General day, and so we fixed up some Mimosas with some mango/orange juice. My mood was improving as I cooked the eggs and spread peach preserves and almond butter over our toast. It is just amazing to me how much of my energy, thoughts, and emotion are wrapped up in food and how it can, so strongly, affect my mood and outlook. The day began to improve in my attitude as we shared our breakfast fare and moment together. Afterward we ambled to barn world to let the fed critters out of their stalls and check on the garden.

Our summer’s garden is now putting forth nice quantities of lovely red tomatoes, though some are picked early and fried green before ripening, yellow straight neck squash, and lots of tender green beans, sweet banana peppers, fresh basil and parsley. Very soon our incredibly tall and well fed corn stalks, courtesy of the copious amounts of composted horse manure we applied to the soil before planting, will be yielding numerous ears of the best sweet corn ever bred, Silver Queen, the most divine of taste. The okra, too, is flowering and soon it will be putting forth pods to be chopped, rolled in corn meal, fried, and devoured.

In giving thought to the food chain thing and your being what you eat, as I said, this year we heavily loaded the row crop part of the garden with rich, black, composted horse manure. So, the horses ate the grain, turned it to poop, which turned into compost, which we put on the ground to feed the plants, which will be feeding us its fruits, which will fuel our bodies before passing through to continue the cycle…I realize I am becoming one with my horses in more ways than one. Neigh. In grocery store world one is so removed from the process that it is impossible to realize this connection and the flow of the source of our energy. Growing a garden does remind me to appreciate the simplest of vegetables. It did not get here by accident and must be used to the fullest.

Food is naturally so beautiful. Raw vegetables, fresh and clean, are purity and potential. I opened a cantaloupe the other night that was gorgeous, with a creamy veined skin yielding to a lime green rind that quickly blended into the wonderful soft orange sherbert color of the center meat of the melon. It was the first of the truly summer melons we had tasted this year, the winter’s grocery store versions mealy and never sweet. This one was sublime and the reason one eats cantaloupe, and keeps one always in search of the next perfect one.

Life continues to roll along in the farm world despite my whining about the heat and my bad attitude about it. The horses are hot and swish their tails in a steady rhythm to thwart the biting mouths of the horse flies that plague them. I cover their coats with various sprays to try to keep them free of these flying chain saws but not much works, really. The dogs spend their days in shade, panting, spend time in the pond cooling their bellies, and when they look pitiful enough, get to come inside to enjoy the benefits of air conditioning. Life slows to a meandering pace this time of year, coping with lizard weather. Things still get done but at a snail’s pace instead of a rush to the finish line. The passing thunder storm this week dropped some much needed rain and cooled the air, and gave respite if only for a few hours, and was welcomed by all.

With the passing of seasons, the rhythms of life mark their time and things have a way of being fresh and unique, and at the same time, are a constant in the annals of the passage of time. It is nothing new for mares to become pregnant in early summer, and so again, Joline is doing her part to follow this tradition, but she is doing so now at twenty years old, carrying an early pregnancy which will hopefully make it to term, and become what will most likely be her last foal. Should she make it through to the birthing and weaning of this foal, Joline will have earned her retirement and will have to do nothing more than eat grass for the rest of her days, her job will have been done, and well.

On another front, an equally repeated occurrence in the general course of most lives has happened, but one which is totally new and unique to me. That is the announcement of my eldest daughter’s pregnancy. While people have been replicating for some time now, for me, the idea of a new person coming into my life, that is part of my life, of me, and of all the ancestors from generations past, is a bit mind blowing. “I am going to be a grandmother” isn’t something that is rolling off my tongue easily yet. It is a concept difficult to conceptualize. There will be a new person on this planet in December. Yet another of a life changing event that is as normal as the passages of days, but stands huge in my sights. My immediate thoughts turn to “how in the heck will we ever baby proof this house?” That thought, is daunting and a bit overwhelming, but one that will have to be met with at some point down the road.

In my mind, however, lurks the strong disbelief that I am old enough to be a grandmother at all, and that my child is old enough to be a parent. Time keeps on ticking, right into the future. It will be interesting to be on this side of situation after having witnessed the change in my parents when they became grandparents. They turned into goo-goo babbling idiots for a while there and let the grandkids get away with murder compared to our restrictions as youths. I suppose we will not be too different. I think that is the plan in life.

Another hot weekend, another tomato sandwich or two, or three, some added bacon, but mostly mayonnaise, salt, pepper and a perfect slice of red goodness. There are a few things that can’t be improved on and that, is one, and reason to not totally hate summer. So while I type and wait on the sun to leave for the afternoon so that I can do afternoon chores, those wonderful round orbs are out there enjoying the heat and are becoming one with that compost and are filling to perfection to become our next ‘mater sandwich, another circle complete.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

dust to dust

Like the unwanted houseguest who settles in onto your favorite spot on the sofa, and who drinks up all your chilly beer, summer and its side kicks, heat and humidity, have done the same thing. This particularly nasty combination hit my face each morning and sit on my head as I head to the barn, unrelenting and taunting, leaching my mood of any good humor. This farm I enjoy so much of the year is now the source of dread at each day’s arrival as I ponder my “what to do outside the house” list, and I strike off most just because there will not be enough energy left after my “must get done” list is half way completed. I can usually overlook this inconvenience until August, but this year the weight of the heat has got me down, and it looks like a long summer ahead. Sigh…

Why, oh why, did my European ancestors settle here in the south? It can only be that they got here in the fall, and enjoyed the gentle winter, nice spring, and were too entrenched to move once summer laid claim to the area. So, having worked a few horses today, I now am hiding indoors while the sun travels across the sky and am trying to find diversions to control my cabin fever and anger at the heat. Writing, painting, definitely not house cleaning, I will find something I am sure, but thinking cool thoughts isn’t working by it self and the air conditioner hasn’t stopped to rest in a week.

This afternoon I am scheduled to meet with my brother at a funeral home to be planning our parents’ funerals. I have never planned anyone’s funeral, whether dead or alive, and am finding that my thoughts on the subject are a mixed bag of dark humor and puzzlement as to the whole ritual of burying someone. A good friend recently gave me a guide to funerals for dummies type manual, having heard of my parents’ recent decline in health, and suggested that I give it a look and make an attempt to deal with the details of the event before they happen so that the grieving can be done without the stress of casket shopping. I had no idea there were so many options and details to be decided about just to get a human remains in the ground, or burned up and put into a jar, or whatever. It is a bit overwhelming and I am wondering what the heck I am doing making choices that my parents won’t even be around to know if I got it right.

I am not a big fan of funerals, as they rank right in there with weddings to me, just another one of those over inflated events that mark our lives. I have been to some that were terrific in their sadness, but a few that were down right hilarious, too. Mark had a friend who died years ago and so we went to Birmigham to send old friend, Jimmy, on to the next astral plane. Jimmy had been cremated and was in a shoe box shaped container when we arrived at the grave site where friends and family stood around about an irregular shaped, 6 inch or so, diameter hole in the ground.

A young boy was holding the box and the dutiful preacher held his bible in front of his chest and the funeral began, somber words from the preacher spilling forth to the family to help them with the reality of Jimmy having moved on and the finality of the physical and the immortality of the afterlife, etc, etc etc. Finally when the preacher has said his fill, it was time for Jimmy’s ashes to return to the ground and the young boy was told to put Jimmy in the hole.

The kid approached the hole and very reverently positioned the box to line up with the cavity. In the box slid, and then stopped. The boy gave a slight push with his foot to encourage Jimmy to move on down, trying not to look inept, but was not successful at either. He gave another push, and then looked up for advice from the preacher. The box was hanging up on a bit of ground in this post hole and wasn’t looking like it was going anywhere, so the preacher walked over to see if he could help. After his pushes were also not working, more friends came over to see how many guys it took to stuff a fellow into the afterlife. After numerous attempts to stomp, shove, and cajole Jimmy to get his body buried, they had to pull the stuck box out to assess the problem. It was getting to be a very awkward moment, with Jimmy’s poor grieving family sitting there in tears watching this funereal chaos. Jimmy went in, and then he came out, then back in again, but still with no progress.

Finally, somebody got the silly giggles and their futile attempts to stifle their snickers got worse, and it was contagious. The moment was shattered and nervous laughter erupted onto everybody’s faces, even the preacher. Something was said about how Jimmy had always been the rebel and had never gone the normal path of life and he wasn’t doing it now in death and another round of deep laughter was set off and the mood of the funeral was lightened. Eventually one of the funeral home folks got a set of idiot sticks, a post hole digger, and cleaned the hole out enough to let Jimmy get six feet under. Dirt was thrown into the hole and Jimmy was at rest, finally.

Then the funniest flower arrangement I have ever seen was at my husband’s grandfather’s funeral. There was an easel holding a fluffy plaque to which was attached a pink plastic princess shaped telephone with the handset left dangling in the air. The floral writing on the thing stated the obvious, “Jesus called…!” Dad would have rolled over in his grave at the silly thing, but he wasn’t in there just yet, and quietly lay before us with a rather stoic face.

Dad had spent a good bit of time working through the depression years as a well digger and the lingering claustrophobia stayed with him even ‘til his death, and in his final wishes he said that he was not be put under ground and wanted a final parking place in a building, whatever you call those places, where caskets are put into lockers. After his funeral service was over we stood around talking with relatives much longer than our youngest daughter, then four or five years old, saw fit and so she took it upon herself to walk over to the still open casket, reached up to the lid and pulled it closed, and turned and said “Dead Dad”. She was right and we left to drive home.

Now as I sort through the huge stack of papers my mother gave me to take to the funeral home to pre-purchase their caskets and services, I am looking through plot deeds and who is already resting in which slots, and how many bodies can be stacked where. My mother bought a large section of this graveyard many years back and we have room for a very large clan, and then some, with each slot being able to bury two stacked on top. There is rank even in death it seems.

I see here the statement of funeral costs for my grandmother, who died a few years back, and who got only the minimal of services. The cost of her minimal burial was around four thousand dollars. Holy cow…What a racket death has become to cost so much merely to dispose of a body, and how complicated it all is, especially for the living who have to deal with the details of something that is a normal and expected part of life. Rituals get us through many things though, and so with my parents advancing time of death, we will go through these details today to have the basics of their passing set into place, so that we can grieve and miss them when the time comes for them to start pushing up daisies. The decisions for today, among others, will be what color caskets and liners they will look best in, but I promise I will not be talked into the solid gold ones that will keep a body fresh for two centuries. Dust to dust, no mummies please.